Sunday 14th of April 2024

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Diwan Baladna: Arab culture from an Arab’s perspective

Ahmad Kamal Azban


Pp. 147

MOST FOREIGNERS LEARN Arab culture the hard way, through moments of misinterpretation, unintentional insults and startling discoveries of immense hospitality. In retrospect, few “veterans” would pass up on a guide to navigate various customs, occasions and day-to-day cultural interactions which have few western equivalents.

Diwan Baladna aims to do just that.

From wedding rituals to the modern hobby of pigeon keeping, Azban’s guide attempts to bring non-Arab readers into Arab culture without complex histories or gross oversimplification.

Focusing mostly on cultural topics, with a focus on Jordanian customs, Diwan Baladna explains the various customs for the major rites of life, including births, engagements, weddings and azzas.

Listing various holidays and obscure sayings that many would take for granted, Diwan Baladna guides you, as if having a close Jordanian friend to explain all the things you were either to embarrassed to ask or too busy to notice.

As a foreigner, perhaps the most useful part of the guide is on greetings, particularly the “Arab kiss”. The section details on which side of the face on how many times, tempered, of course on how close the acquaintence is. Hand holding and concepts of personal space, are also among the more valued segments.

The book also explains the art of flattery and how to ward off the envious “evil eye”, importance of coffee in Arab culture, smoking culture and the ins and outs of Arab hospitality.

Also useful are illustrations of physical gestures and expressions, including greetings, threatening hand gestures and requesting a cigarette.

Despite being over 100 pages in length, Diwan Baladna is far from a comprehensive guide - segments on proper behaviour while travelling and Arab culture from a woman’s perspective are noticeably lacking.

However, with its simple illustrations and its concise, to-the-point writing style, Diwan Biladna provides an accessible look into Arab culture for people of all backgrounds.

Short of a close friend who is more than willing to point out each and every custom and quirk of Arab culture, Diwan Baladna may be the next best thing.